Eagle Forum, the national political organization headed by Phyllis Schlafly, once selected me Massachusetts Homemaker of the Year. My husband nominated me by filling out an application form. I was touched. Hubby, I assumed, wanted to highlight my attempts to homemake, homestead, and homeschool. Sort of. Wid was proud of my domestic endeavors, but he made me a contestant, in part, because he wanted to participate in the prize: an all-expenses paid weekend at a posh Washington, D.C., hotel for each state’s winner. What a guy.
When I actually became the honoree, and Eagle Forum dispatched press releases to the local media of my impending coronation, a reporter from the Springfield-Union News phoned. “I’d like to come to your home with a photographer,” he said. The gleam in his voice gave it away: he thought he was going to meet a Martha Stewart wannabe.
I could visualize this reporter’s fantasy. He’d encounter me sporting diamond studs and spackling. After I cleaned up, I’d offer him lunch: saucisson chaud with steamed kale, artistically arranged on pressed glass plates. During a dessert of kiwi flamboyancy, served in my perfectly fertilized rosebush garden, the neighborhood’s beautiful people would join us for lattes.
“Sure, come on over,” I said.
When the newsie arrived, I was hospitable. “Do you drink instant coffee?”
He looked puzzled. I smiled as I explained that the bedrooms were in a state of disarray, because my two sons, war history buffs, had reenacted the Battle of the Bulge in them.
He looked chagrined.
“Oh, and ignore the cranky old lady hobbling around,” I helpfully added. “That’s just my mother-in-law. She slipped on sidewalk pavement in her cheap shoes and is recuperating with us.”
He looked frightened. Give me some credit, though. At least I didn’t expose him to the more creative ways I keep the hearth. I didn’t tell him how I’ve allowed my son to dissect formaldehyde drenched grasshoppers near the kitchen. Or that I store plastic bags in the dishwasher. And that I dry hockey skates and football cleats by the woodstove in the living room when I’m not requesting my mother to Federal Express, from Florida, ready-made tamales. He didn’t see the kitschy Christmas card artwork that my husband creates and displays, or the sale price African violets I decorate with, or meet the pet pygmy goat that I’ve woman-handled in the backyard.
So, when the story appeared in the Sunday paper, my house was described in lackluster terms as “reasonably dust free and the colors more or less match, but the place is still a bit too casual to make ‘House Beautiful,'” when he could have written: “Paging Rosa Lopez. Emergency. Please come out of seclusion. This casa need you, pronto.”
I suppose, after experiencing that media reality check, it would have been proper to feel guilty about my offbeat homemaking methods. It would have been proper to evaluate if a mistake had been made in giving the queen of laissez faire homemaking a real title. It would have been proper to reflect if it was ethical of me to accept the perks of the prize. Nah.
See, I may not do the homemaking thing like Martha Stewart, like an Amish goodwife, or even like my accomplished mother. But I love being a very available mother and wife, and, yes, homemaker, even though the workload is often dreary. And repetitive. And unappreciated. On those bad house days, I shame myself with truth and remind myself of the sheer luxury of my lot. Our world, after all, is teeming with women who keep house in hovels and slums and frequently give birth to babes in such squalor. It’s a shame the American cognoscenti keeps telling our young women to act for the Oscar, train for the Gold, write for the Pulitzer. Do something with your life, but DON’T JUST STAY HOME.
Ugh. The enterprising woman who can be homeward bound, thanks to a hardworking husband, can still make history (or is that her story?). The beloved columnist Erma Bombeck, not Betty Friedan, beautifully modeled that lesson, for a past generation of bored, suburban housewives.
A true confession. In the 14 years that I’ve stayed at home and baked cookies, I have also been able to accomplish the following on a shoestring budget: learn to quilt and can fruits; raise broiler hens; receive a master’s degree and write a doctoral dissertation; help my husband in his home business (a school); run successfully for Amherst Town Meeting, twice; manage Pat Buchanan’s Bay State campaign; invite an inner-city child to vacation in my home by being involved with the Fresh Air Fund; do freelance writing and interview such people as Newt Gingrich and Martin Luther King III; advise other mommies to homeschool or bust; and learn to lift weights.
Perhaps to the local reporter I was a questionable award winner, but just like that other homemaker from hell—Morticia.